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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 18, 2003

Ho'omaluhia show reflects nature's beauty, fragility

By Victoria Gail-White
Advertiser Art Critic

"Early Morning Rain" is a pastel by Toni Martin.

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Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden is an inspirational setting for the "Aloha Ho'omaluhia XIX" show, where, invited by curator Sarah Bremser, an assistant professor of art at Kapi'olani Community College, 13 established artists and teachers address the complex relationship between humanity and nature.

Traditionally, painters from many art movements have included gardens and parks in their paintings. Impressionists Edouard Manet and Claude Monet, Neo-Impressionist Georges Seurat, and Fauvist Henri Matisse sketched and painted their garden visions into masterpieces.

But the beauty of the garden alone did not motivate all the artists in this annual exhibit, which began in 1984, prompted by the construction of the H-3 Freeway and the garden's threatened equilibrium. Some artists participating in the exhibit have focused their work on addressing the fragility of our ecosystem.

Kazu Fukuda, a lecturer at Kapi'olani Community College, focuses his attention on the endemic koilike fish, also known as Lentipes concolor or the Halloween Goby. The eyes of this black and orange fish are bright blue. " 'O'opu 'Alamo'o" is a very large resin model for cast stone. The polluted upper-mountain streams threaten this fish's survival. After seeing this sculpture, my curiosity has grown to see the actual fish.

The smallest piece in the show, "Marvelous Fish" (watercolor, ink on watercolor board), is an alluring abstraction by David Belke. Belke is a teacher at Kapi'olani Community College and curator of the Koa Gallery and other gallery spaces on O'ahu. In an artist's statement, he writes, "The work deals with energy patterns and cycles of life. Like plant forms in the garden, the cycle of birth, maturation and death is forever repeated, and one can see the brevity of life in a larger dimension."

" 'O'opu 'Alamo'o" is a model for cast stone and resin by Kazu Fukuda.

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The leading light of this show is Linda Kane's large charcoal on paper, "Night Walk, Ho'omaluhia." Textured with markings, it evokes in the simplest way the mystery and magic of being surrounded by plants in the moonlight. Kane is a lecturer in drawing and painting at the University of Hawai'i-Manoa. She writes in her statement, "The ancient Hawaiians lived in harmonious concert with nature. Today it is hard to retreat to a natural wilderness of O'ahu, and even at Ho'omaluhia, we are reminded of the conquest of man over nature." Her painting is "a visual memory of walking through the forest at night, simultaneously connected to the past, present and future. Moon above, trees around, earth underfoot, silence."

Ka-Ning Fong, a teacher in the painting program at UH, is known to paint the darker side of Chinatown street life. However, for this exhibit, his three oil-on-canvas paintings, "On Golden Pond," "Night Exit" and "End Trail," are fantasy-like landscapes that invite the viewer in for a stroll. Fong took direct impressions from working on the site of the gardens with photographs and sketches, and then elaborated upon them in his studio.

Carl Jennings, who teaches art and design at Kapi'olani Community College, also took images from the gardens. But he subjected them to a variety of processes and manipulations. "It is my intention to explore new ways of picturing/seeing our natural world through the development of the language of painting," he writes in his artist statement. Jennings' "Scenic Lovers" (oil on canvas) contains tiny figures of lovers from different age groups kissing in a whirl of small artificial pine trees against a blurred soft-green background.

The relationship of this painting with Marcia Morse's adjacent "The Portable Forest," made of fine twigs and paint, gives each piece a greater sense of intimacy. Morse, an art critic, writer and faculty member at Honolulu Community College, writes in her statement, "I continue to explore the various possibilities of sculptural forms as a metaphor for reading the landscape, and as a paradigm for the way in which meaning may be contained and communicated." Her artwork of a delicate, twiggy forest fitted into a small treasure chest speaks for itself.

"Marvelous Fish II," by David Behlke, makes use of acrylic and glitter on watercolor paper.

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The sanctuary of Ho'omaluhia gardens inspired Linda Hutchinson. Her acrylic on canvas broad-stroke paintings, "Palm Seeds" and "Renewal," are big, bright, bold botanicals. She is co-director of the Gallery at Hawai'i Pacific University at Hawai'i Loa.

Antoinette (Toni) Martin's pastel, "Early Morning Rain," is an exquisite, soft, misty, mountainous landscape. She has included a series of superb color photographs titled "A Walk in the Park" that were "created while experiencing what one often passes by; the little venues of color and form in the subtler vistas of the park, often not noticed as the majesty of nature looms upwards toward the sky," she writes in her artist statement. Martin is an associate professor of art and director of the Gallery 'Iolani at Windward Community College.

The fiber work of Marques Marzan is a continual delight. His mixed-media "Mamo Hawai'i" continues his representation of "the ideas of creation, continuation and the responsibility one has to community," as he writes in his artist statement. Marzan, an indigenous artist, incorporates ancestral fiber work with contemporary concepts. He is a collections technician at the Bishop Museum and has taught many fiber workshops in Hawai'i.

"Portable Forest," by Marcia Morse, is a work in mixed media.

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Russell Sunabe's "Remain in the Light" is a haunting oil on canvas of a child leaping forward and bathed in a soft golden light. The background of the painting is mountainous and stark. In his statement, Sunabe writes, "this gated environ is a continual source inspiring urgency and strong emotions about our contemporary life and times." He is a lecturer in drawing at Kapi'olani Community College.

"Ho'omaluhia reflects double meanings that our landscape implies," writes Kloe Kang in her statement, "as both our familiar daily environment and also that of an exotic land. In my painting, I explore the true meanings of 'home' and reinterpret the 'secret' of familiar things so often taken for granted." Her two oil-on-paper paintings, titled "Garden Picks" and "Garden Picks II," illustrate her statement. She teaches drawing and painting at UH and at Kapi'olani Community College.

"Medicine Man," a mixed-media, outdoor installation by Diane Nushida-Tokuna, comes complete with its own trail map. I won't spoil the surprise; venture down to see it.

'Aloha Ho'omaluhia XIX'

9 a.m.-4 p.m., through May 25

Ho'omaluhia Botanical Garden 45-680 Luluku Road, Kane'ohe

233-7323 for directions and more information

The two-toned textured wall in the gallery is a problem, especially in the case of Diana Jeon's "The Garden of Money" (appropriated photographic digital imaging, color Xerox transparencies, Band-Aids, clear plastic panel and CD audio track). Because the color Xerox transparencies are framed in clear plastic, the textured wall distracts from the artwork. This is a shame, because Jeon's piece is a serious work addressing the appropriation of the sovereign nation of Hawai'i. The artwork protests "how the 'garden of Hawai'i' has itself been commodified and paved over for financial gains during these ensuing 110 years," as she writes in her statement. The CD audio track that she made to accompany the artwork includes chanting, a voice reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and Louis Armstrong singing "What a Wonderful World."

This exhibit is a good reason to visit the gardens. The view of the Ko'olau Mountains is breathtaking: Be sure to bring a sketchbook, picnic lunch and camera, and plan to paint your own masterpiece.

Correction: Sarah Bremser is assistant professor of art at Kapi‘olani Community College. Her name was misspelled in a previous version of this review.